Dapaah Chocolates: A Taste of Luxury and Culture
by Ladun Ogidan
For several generations, the Dapaah family has worked in the cultivation of Ghana’s globally recognised cocoa industry. Their dairy-free chocolates are handcrafted from bean to bar in micro-batches, using only the finest organic cocoa from Ghana, and the most premium ingredients, making it finely suited to vegans and lactose intolerants alike. In December 2016, during a tour of his maternal grandmother’s cocoa plantation in the western region of Ghana, founder Raphael Dapaah came up with the idea to establish Dapaah Chocolates. Since a soft launch in December 2018, the company has gone on to enjoy successes on the African and international scene. In this interview, he talks about his experience as a chocolatier, running a business with his siblings Kwaku and Afia Valerie, as well as his expectations of the African confectionery industry.
Your need to create an internationally recognised luxury chocolate brand is informed by the fact that despite producing as much as 20% of the world’s global supply of cocoa, Ghana does not have a single chocolate brand that is globally recognised. How has the market reacted to your products?
The European market, specifically, the UK, France and Scandinavia, have been very receptive to our brand. I put this down to the palette of this market maturing and departing from mass-produced chocolate brands, that are high in refined sugar, artificial flavours and minimal cocoa. I also believe that consumers are becoming more conscious about where, and with whom they spend their money, especially in the Scandinavian nations. Consequently, these consumers are more interested in the social impact or corporate responsibility of the brands they buy into, as well as of course, the quality, narrative, and provenance of the products they buy.
In what way did your background in politics and history prepare you in becoming a chocolatier?
Interestingly, my background in history and politics was initially supposed to prepare me for a career in diplomacy and international relations. I pursued a career in politics and governance, working for various UK Government departments, with the aim of one day becoming an ambassador for Ghana and the broader African continent. While that hasn’t panned out, since I have moved away from politics—in becoming an artisan chocolate maker and launching my start-up chocolate brand—I have ended up becoming an unofficial cultural ambassador of business and trade by default for Ghana and the broader African continent. Everything happens for a reason!
The cocoa sector in Ghana is a very political topic, so much so that the cultivation of cocoa is governed and administered by the Government, due to how significant the export of raw cocoa to foreign markets is to the Ghanaian economy. Additionally, the history of trade between Ghana and Western companies that process and add value to the cocoa, thereby generating more revenue for their nations, has resulted in a significant imbalance of trade, and skewed trade and power dynamics between Ghana and the West. To answer your question directly, my study of history and politics has significantly influenced my decision to launch my chocolate brand, in order to disrupt this age-old narrative of poor African extractive economies versus rich industrial Western economies, in favour of us.
What is it like running a family business with your siblings?
As with any family, or business of that matter, a range of personalities, skills, and opinions shape decision making and strategy. I recruited my siblings to help with the shaping of my start-up due to the wealth of perspective and individual skills they have. For example, my younger brother has a background in economics from Cambridge University and works with start-up entrepreneurs. My younger sister has a background in psychology from Birmingham University and informs our marketing strategy.
While the buck ultimately stops with me, and I make the executive decisions, it’s great to have support from my family, and to be able to keep the business in house. It certainly saves on operational costs!
Do you think Africa is doing enough to create and sustain luxury brands especially with low-income growth and the high rate of unemployment; What developments would you like to see in the African confectionery industry in the next five years?
I think many African nations have made positive steps towards capturing a slice of the global luxury market pie. I have always believed, despite prevailing narratives about poverty, that Africa is, in fact, the beating heart of luxury, especially when you consider her abundance of mineral resources; diamonds, gold, cobalt, to name a few.
However, more can certainly be done to eradicate the high rate of unemployment that still plagues the continent, especially amongst the educated youth, who are supposed to be the engine of our economies.
I would like to see more companies enter the confectionery space, particularly in the chocolate industry. It is encouraging to see the steady rise of chocolate makers in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire seizing their destinies by taking control of the entire cocoa value chain—from the cocoa bean, right down to the finished packaging, marketing and retailing of a chocolate bar.
In 5 years, I hope to see governments and private sectors across the continent support more start-up businesses entering the confectionery space, as well as regulate foreign companies who engage in the cocoa sector. There should be a condition for international companies which stipulates that if you want access to our premium cocoa, you need to build at the very minimum a processing factory in our country, in order to create jobs for the locals, beyond merely buying the raw cocoa, and making the real money in their respective nations.
You offer clients the service of creating personalised bespoke chocolates. Please tell us about your most exciting commission?
While our chocolates are hand made, in minimal quantities, we aren’t currently producing bespoke chocolates as yet. We do, however, partner with brands, and corporate organisations who share our values, and provide chocolates for their respective events. For example, as patrons of the arts, we have been commissioned to provide chocolates for fashion runway shows for VIP guests, to award ceremonies, and our favourite, art exhibition receptions and vernissages.
I am especially supportive of small businesses and receptive to commissions from fashion brands, who ask us to provide them with chocolates to give their customers alongside their products. A chic accessories brand I admire, Saint Kojo, recently contacted us to provide white chocolate carrés for their brand, to be enjoyed by their loyal customers. Those sort of commissions are my favourite due to the brand alignment and shared values we embrace.
What quality defines your brand and sets it apart from others?
The quality that defines my brand is our non-compromising and unwavering approach to sourcing our premium and organic ingredients. I have tried to source as many of our ingredients from the African continent as possible, and have gone to great lengths to ensure they are organic and ethically sourced. I think many chocolate brands don’t go half the lengths we do to ensure the farmers at the heart of our industry are well compensated for their labour, nor do they ensure their ingredients are nothing short of exceptional.
A small win for me recently was sourcing a manufacturer of Morrocan blood oranges for a new line of limited edition chocolate bars we are making.
My younger brother’s wife had asked me to make a chocolate bar infused with orange a while back, and her request stuck with me.
After recalling a past trip to Morocco in 2018, it dawned on me how many orange trees I came across. I later learned that some of the best blood oranges in the world come from the Mediterranean and North Africa. True to my unwavering ethos of sourcing from Africa, I finally managed after an exhausting search to source a Moroccan producer who could supply me with organic and authentic blood orange oil from Morocco. So, to answer your question, what sets us, as a brand apart, is that we don’t cut corners, and we are all about quality, from Africa!
Do you have plans to launch internationally?
Absolutely. That is the long term goal. Despite our humble soft launch back in December 2018, we have received orders from all over the world. The most surprising one came from Singapore and was a substantial order. That made me realise the beauty and power of social media and the digital age where a small family start-up business in South London receives an international order from thousands of miles away in Asia—a continent we have not personally visited ourselves, but our family name has!
Ultimately, I hope that in becoming a global brand, we will play a part in dispelling false narratives about African derived, produced goods and services, as well as rightfully position the continent as the true home of luxury and premium goods. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; slowly but surely, we will get there.
April 13, 2021